Queen Elizabeth greeting well wishers during her visit to Red Deer, June 28, 1990. (Red Deer Archives)

Queen Elizabeth greeting well wishers during her visit to Red Deer, June 28, 1990. (Red Deer Archives)

Dawe: Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Visit to Red Deer

On Wednesday, February 6, 1952, Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne of the United Kingdom and Canada upon the death of her father, King George VI. She has subsequently become, at 95 years of age and 70 years as Queen, the longest-lived and longest-reigning current monarch. She is also the only monarch to make a Royal Visit to Red Deer. That memorable trip took place on June 28, 1990.

There had been visits by members of the Royal Family to Red Deer in the past. The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret had made a visit in July 1980 as part of a tour of the province during Alberta’s 75th-anniversary celebrations. On August 13, 1941, Queen Elizabeth uncle, and King George VI’s brother, the Duke of Kent, made a short stop at the C.P.R. station while making a tour of Royal Air Force bases in Canada.

The 1990 Royal Visit by was part of a much larger cross-Canada tour. The stop in Alberta marked the fifth time that Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip had come to the province. The original intent was to have the Royal Couple stay only in Calgary. However, a decision was subsequently made to have the Queen slip up to Red Deer for a few hours to see the new, highly innovative, Paediatric Ward at the Red Deer Regional Hospital.

When the Regional Hospital had been built in the early 1980’s, a new paediatric ward had not been part of the project. The existing ward, which had been built in the old Red Deer General Hospital in 1967, was not to be relocated to the new complex until a second phase of the project commenced.

However, with the dramatic slowdown in the Alberta economy and subsequent cutbacks in Provincial Government funding, a general freeze on major capital projects had been imposed.

Meanwhile, the situation in the existing paediatric ward became increasingly serious. With the huge increase in population in the community and with the Red Deer Hospital’s increasing role as the major regional health care facility, the ward was often swamped. Moreover, under provincial government guidelines there was to be 22 square metres of space per bed. The Red Deer unit, built when care philosophies had been much different, had only 14.

A break in the situation came in 1988. Health Minister Marvin Moore indicated that the Province would provide up to $1 million in funding (the cut off point between a “major” capital project and a “minor” one), if the community could raise the remaining funds needed to complete the project.

Work began immediately on the task of raising more than $500,000. A decision was also made to have a very innovative approach to the design of the ward. There was to be an emphasis on play areas and family spaces as this would greatly help in the healing process for children. Moreover, it was decided to make the ward look like a miniature village, rather than a traditional hospital facility.

The idea of using streetscapes also provided a wonderful opportunity for the fundraising. Local businesses and organizations were offered the opportunity to sponsor a façade, which was often in keeping with the type of business the sponsor operated.

Another huge boost to the fundraising came from a local firefighter, John Cormier. In August 1988, he swam the English Channel, raising some $34,000 for the Paediatric Ward. Red Deer’s firefighters as a group gave a very large sum of money to support the creation of a special children’s burn unit on the ward.

When the new Paediatric Ward was completed, nearly $600,000 had been raised. As the Red Deer Advocate noted in an editorial, that worked out to an impressive $10 donated for every man, woman and child in the community. More than 50 businesses and service clubs had become involved along with 2800 individual donors.

An official opening of the new unit was held on February 1990, but the Queen’s visit in June gave another opportunity to highlight the innovation and success of the project. It was also an opportunity to acknowledge once more the outstanding community support which had made the Paediatric Ward possible.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.